Get Into My Belly!


OK so that was a bit misleading yesterday; you might even accuse me of false advertising or bait-and-switch.  But I am taking you to Chinatown and Little Tokyo in today’s blog, and frankly, the food found in these neighborhoods in the middle of LA is just as satisfying as what I found in Hong Kong or Tokyo. Except here, your waiter or waittress might be able to respond in English, and the language barrier can sometimes make or break your culinary experience while traveling.


There are a million places to eat in Chinatown. You can even see the sign for phở in the picture above, but I’ve tried a few of these Chinese-Vietnamese joints and I’d say stick with Chinese food when in Chinatown.  The best dim sum in the world is found at the Empress Pavilion ( ); be prepared to get in line if you go there for Sunday brunch and arrive after 11:30am. I try to get seated by 11 because that’s the small window when the sweet tofu custard (đậu hủ đường or Tàu hủ) makes its appearance. My mouth is watering as I write this, but I digress. 

If you are visiting LA, you should also wander over to the “newer” Chinatown in Alhambra in the San Gabriel Valley. Though this is somewhat of a misnomer to me; Alhambra is more a modern Chinese town than a traditional Chinatown. Tons of large shopping centers, restaurants, and supermarkets there.  You won’t have to worry about things getting lost in the translation there either.


From Chinatown you can drive a few blocks across “international borders” to Little Tokyo:


I’m here to try out the much talked about Orochon Ramen shop ( ) which has a Wall of Bravery made up of photos of diners who survive the Orochon #2 challenge. To get your mug on the wall, you have to finish the bowl of ramen, down to the last drop, in 30 minutes. They don’t care if your head is on fire at that point.


Their soup intoxicates you with 13 secret ingredients, though I’m only able to identify 3, maybe 4…


but the twist is in the level of spiciness, ranging from 1 (“Extreme”) to 7 (“Non-spicy”).  After some advice from the waiter who has a killer cherry blossoms tattoo on his arm, I opt for the Miso-based soup, number 5. But the 10-year-old kid sitting at the table next to mine says his is #4 so that’s what I end up ordering. I can’t be one-upped by a kid!  But looking at the sweat pouring down his father’s face and neck I get a little nervous. False pride is going to be the death of my poor tastebuds.  Luckily level 4 is just the perfect amount of kick I can handle. The dad meanwhile is struggling through the #2 challenge and fails; the second mug of cold beer can’t help him today.

I’m walking off my dinner with a quick jaunt around Little Tokyo:


Anyway, down the street from the visitor center…


I spy a bakery that I’m sure has mochi ( 餅), which is a soft glutinous rice cake with various sweet fillings:


It’s late in the day so there’s not much left:



But how spectacular is this?


My eyes think I should buy one of each but my very full belly settles on three…mochi, get into my belly!


This particular one is seasonal and has a decidedly different taste from the other two, mostly from the flavor of the leaf in which it’s wrapped, even though the filling is also a red bean paste:


This is what it looks like on the inside of the mochi:


And this is what it looks like after it’s inside my happy tummy (does anyone know what kind of leaf this is?):


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